Why would a team that was 23-43 last season, and is developing a young core, invest so heavily in a player of such advanced age, you ask? Because it’s about basketball and business.
When the Bell and Rogers groups — respective owners of rival sports television networks TSN and SportsNet — agreed to buy majority interest of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment company in December, their shared interest was rooted in a fear that MLSE was going to create a mega-network that would force their loss of Raptors and Leafs programming. The two companies, whose majority ownership is expected to be formalized within the next three months, decided that partnering with a competitor was better than being obliterated by a larger station that would likely have been built in the mold of the Knicks’ MSG network. Nash’s role in this business equation now, of course, would be to play the part of the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin by driving up ratings and re-energizing a fan base that is still reeling from the loss of Chris Bosh to Miami two summers ago.
The Raptors could also use a spike at the gate, as they’ve fallen into the league’s bottom half in home attendance since Bosh’s departure. Toronto ranked 17th last season (average crowd of 16,835) and was 19th in 2010-11 (16,566) after ranking as high as ninth overall during the Bosh era (19.435 in 2007-08).
The quest for Steve Nash officially got rolling on Canada Day, with much of the Raptors front office meeting with the free agent point guard in Manhattan.
Toronto has offered Nash a three-year contract worth between $30-$36 million U.S.
The New York Knicks also came calling on Nash, but can only offer $3-5 million per season and only the upper figure if a sign-and-trade can be worked out with the Phoenix Suns.
At this point, Phoenix is not interested in coming close to Toronto’s offer, though the Brooklyn Nets could tempt Nash with a similar deal, should Deron Williams decide to go home to Dallas.
The Mavericks reportedly are only interested in giving Nash a huge one-year contract, or a smaller two-year package, while the Indiana Pacers also have shown some interest.
Nash is not expected to make a decision until Williams makes his call — the USA point guard has said he will choose a landing spot prior to the start of USA Basketball’s pre-Olympic camp on Friday.
Only verbal agreements can be made at this point. Teams cannot officially announce anything until the NBA’s moratorium period ends on July 11th.
Sources told the Sun the Raptors also have interest in free agent forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Ersan Ilyasova and the team has long coveted Portland swingman Nic Batum. The Blazers can — and have indicated they will — match any offers to the French national. The Raptors don’t expect to move on another signing or trade until Nash’s landing spot is established.
Toronto’s contingent included minority owner Larry Tanenbaum, president/GM Bryan Colangelo, head coach Dwane Casey and former Raptor and Canadian national team coach Jay Triano. Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca reported the Raptors also enlisted the aid of hockey icon Wayne Gretzky as part of their video presentation to Nash and his agent, Bill Duffy.
But it is going to take more than a glitzy presentation to entice Nash to a team that’s missed the playoffs for four straight years. It’s nice to think the tug of his home country and a chance to be part of a building process that will cement his Canadian legacy would be important. There are still games to be played, and wins and losses will play a role.
Meanwhile, the one current Raptor who will be most affected by Nash’s decision remains philosophical about his fate.
“I’m still a Raptor. Don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jose Calderon told the Star on Sunday. “When (something) happens, if (something) happens, my agents and myself will see what are the options, amnesty or trades. So I’m just thinking about the Olympics and my national team. And waiting for news.”
The Raptors may need to move Calderon’s salary — just over $10 million for one more season — to get to the financial commitment they’re prepared to make to Nash.
While they could do something like move or amnesty another player with a smaller deal, they may need to maximize their cap room to attract free agents other than Nash.
While both Lin and the Knicks are hoping for a reunion, sources say that if any clubs offer Lin, a restricted free agent, a backloaded contract that pays him an eight-figure salary in the third and fourth years, the Knicks could be given pause about matching the offer.
With the new collective bargaining agreement employing a more punitive luxury tax, beginning in the 2013-14 season, the Knicks are extremely concerned about the financial ramifications of such a deal.
Toronto is perhaps the only team that might consider offering Lin a backloaded contract, known as a "poison pill" deal. The Raptors are currently going all-out to sign Steve Nash. Toronto has offered Nash a three-year deal worth $36 million, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
But if Nash, who is also considering Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Brooklyn, rejects Toronto’s offer, the Raptors may turn their attention toward Lin.
The Knicks can offer Lin a four-year deal worth $24.5 million. But an opposing team can offer Lin a poison pill that could go as high as $40 million over four years. Such a contract would pay Lin $5 million in each of the first two years and then go as high as $15 million in each of the last two years.
L.A. is paying Gasol $19 million a year to do a mediocre Chris Bosh impersonation. Bosh only got $16 million last season for the actual thing.
Enter the Raptors. They are ideal trading partners for the Lakers in a Gasol deal.
Here’s the trade: L.A. sends Gasol and Metta World Amnesty…er, Peace to Toronto. In return, the Raptors send back Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and DeMar DeRozan.
Who says no here?
Toronto has made it clear that they’re tired of fruitlessly rebuilding year after year and want to finally give their fans a reason to cheer. How else would you explain them offering free agent (and more importantly, Canadian) point guard Steve Nash a three-year, $36 million contract that ends when Nash is 41 years old?
Trading for Gasol would be excellent bait to lure Nash north of the border. Right now, there’s not much there to entice the two-time MVP, who wants to play meaningful basketball games without purely ring-chasing. Add the most skilled big man in the game for him to work with, and now you’re talking.
The Raptors have been a frequent landing spot for international players. Acquiring Gasol (who’s from Spain) and World Peace (who’s from another planet) would continue that trend.
A revamped frontcourt of Gasol and promising Lithuanian import Jonas Valanciunas would give the Raptors some bite on their front line. They would finally have a big who can score with his back to the basket and World Peace —who seemed revitalized at the end of last season—would immediately become their top perimeter defender.
WOULD NASH MAKE THE RAPTORS A CONTENDER?
There are some Raptor fans who actually feel that Nash would turn the Raptors into contenders. To paraphrase Rob Reiner’s mother, in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what they’re having.”
First off, Steve Nash is 38 years old and is not the same player that won consecutive MVP Awards. That was 7 years ago. Most players don’t even play 7 years. It’s a lifetime in the NBA.
That’s not to say that Nash still doesn’t have a big effect on an team he’s on. Phoenix wouldn’t have won 23 games without Nash, let alone the 33 they did won, this past season. The fact that Phoenix was vying for a playoff spot until the last few games is a testament to his impact.
The problem is that Toronto doesn’t have much more talent than Phoenix does, and arguably has less.
Let’s look at Phoenix’s starting lineup last season. Marcin Gortat is better than anyone on the current Raptor team and most likely Valanciunas in his rookie season. Channing Frye doesn’t have Bargnani’s offensive arsenal, but is just as good a three point shooter and a much better rebounder and defensive player. Grant Hill is not nearly the player he used to be, but his veteran savvy gives him more of an effect on the win column than either DeMar DeRozan or James Johnson. And while Jared Dudley is never going to be an All Star, he’s a solid role player that can hit the three and play defense. To say that Toronto’s roster is that much better than Phoenix’s is nonsense.
So if Nash can’t even get Phoenix in the playoffs in the West, do you really expect him to help them contend against team’s like Indiana and Atlanta, let alone Miami and Chicago in the East? That’s bordering on delusional.
Toronto is clearly playing the hometown card here as Nash is from Canada. That 3rd year they tacked on to that contract offer makes it a more appealing option for Nash to consider. The Nets, Mavs are currently looking to see what happens with Deron Williams while the Knicks situation will depend on their negotiations with Jeremy Lin. The scenarios are endless here as for which direction Nash goes in based on the free agent point guard market.
It would be wrong to count out the team Nash has played for so long with, the Phoenix Suns. They could very well step up to the plate and attempt to re-sign Nash.
Money is going to be large factor in this situation for Nash, however the chance to win at this stage in his career should also be at the top of his list. I don’t see that happening with Toronto, although he’d be a major upgrade to their team. He says he’s willing to listen if any team expresses interest and he’s clearly doing just that.
It is believed that the Suns will offer Nash only a two-year deal. Although they have the cap flexibility to offer him a higher salary, it is unlikely that they would give Nash a raise for a multiyear contract as he approaches 40. The two-time MVP averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists (second in the NBA) last season.
In an interview with ESPN on Saturday, just before the opening of the free-agency period, Nash sounded as though a return to the Suns doesn’t look likely.
"I don’t necessarily feel like they’re determined to keep me," Nash said of the franchise with which he’s spent the last eight seasons and won two MVP awards. "I think there’s a lot of factors. So, one, I’m not sure they’re determined to keep me; two, there’s other opportunities that are exciting. So I think I have to be open-minded."
While the Suns have maintained that they would like to bring Nash back, they appeared to be preparing for his potential departure when they selected North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th pick in the draft Thursday.
On this Canada Day, Toronto feels like the favorite to land Nash. He always has expressed some sentimental interest in closing his career for his home country’s lone team. Every Suns game has been like a home game at Air Canada Centre for eight years. Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors president and general manager, was the Suns GM when they landed Nash in 2004 free agency and already loves an international flair to his roster without a Canadian who would give the franchise relevancy. Toronto has plenty of cap space and likely would give Nash the largest overall offer. The Raptors also have a player’s coach in Dwane Casey, who once mentored Nash favorite Gary Payton. Andrea Bargnani could play the role of Dirk Nowitzki for Nash while their recent draft picks — Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan — make them a potential young team on the rise with Nash. Toronto would amnesty Jose Calderon’s contract to create cap and point guard space. Nash has business interests in Toronto and is the new general manager of Canada basketball, which is headquartered in suburban Toronto. The worldly man also loves a cosmopolitan, culture-rich city like Toronto. Aaron Nelson and the Suns’ esteemed athletic training staff have been considered one of best reasons (outside his three kids) for bad-back Nash to stay in the Valley but the presence of Alex McKechnie as Toronto’s director of sports science would give him comfort on the health side.
Ersan Ilyasova, 25, is an unrestricted free agent and, given his propensity to crash the boards and shoot the ball effectively, expects to receive a big contract this offseason. Ilyasova’s tantalizing skills has the San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors intrigued according to Fred Kerber of the New York Post.
Ilyasova’s combination of rebounding and shooting make him an exceedingly rare commodity on the open market. When you factor in his age his value skyrockets even further. Hoopshype ranked him as the 13th best free agent and Zach Lowe of The Point Forward slotted him as the second best power forward behind Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson
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